• Published 26th Jan 2017
  • 4,582 Views, 728 Comments

No Longer Displaced - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving basic! That seems like the perfect formula for a pegasus professor out of her element, a gruff captain 1,000 years from home, and a clever princess who has probably read too many romance novels. There are pancakes, too!

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Chapter 16 - The Best in You

Once again, the armor-clad Tail scanned the heights in search of those about to cast down judgment upon her. The tribunal, from its lofty perch in the darkness, was absolutely indiscernible from the void. However, the terrifying cacophony of its voices was far from muddled. “Colonel Tail, you have flagrantly attacked another pony. You used lethal force! For all you know, you killed her! You’re a monster at worst—and a traitor at best!”

The pegasus winced. She yearned to fly away, but for some reason, one of her wings would not respond. Instead, it oozed a dull ache that slowly pulsed through the eternity of seconds that seemed to follow.

Broken— She slumped at the thought of what she had become and lowered her head. There was no escape, and there was simply nothing she could say in response. Maybe there had been another way. Maybe fighting back wasn’t the right answer, and even if it had been, she had hit Bonecrusher with a technique that wasn’t meant—

A suddenly audible sequence of metallic pops set the fur along Tail’s spine upright. She tightly shut her eyes, not wanting to see what she knew had to be coming. Captain Barrier would appear. He would gaze upon her with those hellish, reddened things. He would stare up at her arbiters and tell them that she wasn’t equipped to do anything. He’d tell them that she was a failure.

Quiet reigned. No words came from those above, and no words came from what Tail assumed was Barrier’s concealed muzzle. She flinched at the softest touch against her wing—the one that ached—and the tranquility transferred through the tender brushing drove the pegasus to once again open her eyes.

“You’re neither of those things,” Barrier spoke when she peered upon his figure. The gunmetal grey helmet was nowhere to be found. Instead, Tail freely observed the compassion on his countenance and the almost sluggish calm that kept his muscles relaxed. “You have never been either of those things.”

Warmth swelled behind her breastplate. Her heart fluttered to his words, and she sharply drew a breath. Did he really just say that? Tail’s sights rapidly scoured his form while her mind scrambled for clues that could confirm what she had heard. She clung to the wind in her lungs as though it were her last gasp—as though a reply was fighting against the physicist’s unresolved disbelief.

“No, what you are… is loyal.” The pegasus scrunched her muzzle as Barrier continued his speech without much concern for her internal processing. “You spent all this time trying your hardest not to let anypony down while keeping what makes you who you are. You haven’t failed in that regard. Faltered, maybe, but never failed.”

Barrier paused, affixing his attention to those that sat far beyond Tail’s scope of vision. “You have no right to cast judgment on my cadet. That is my right, and my right alone, so allow me to spell it out for you.

“Everypony falters, especially those in our line of work. What sets us apart is what we do afterwards. Do we curl up? Give up? Or do we tighten our jaw and put ourselves back on our hooves?” Barrier threw his foreleg in Tail’s direction, causing the mare’s feathers to ruffle. “This one picked herself up every bucking time, even when I stood aside. She got back up over and over and over, and you dare call her a monster?”

Tail’s muzzle flushed as she eyed the bristled bits of charcoal fur that jutted out along Barrier’s neck.

“I know monsters better than anypony alive. Don’t you dare say that about Tail again!” His blue eyes flashed with a fire of their own, and his words rumbled throughout the chamber. The judicial tower cracked and dissolved. The darkened room evaporated, yielding the landscape to a surreal expanse of endless white. In fact, nothing remained at all, except for a lavender pegasus and her irate, surprisingly protective captain.

He’s staring at you. Her thoughts seemed to audibly drift throughout the space. Why is he staring at you like that? And where is everything? What, why? Her forehoof timidly pawed at the luminescent floor, and Tail bit her lower lip while searching for anything she could say to the stallion.

“You picked yourself up, Tail. You make me proud to be your captain, and the fact that you’d defend my name after all the… not-so-good things that have happened…” She inhaled slowly as he set his hoof back upon that pesky, agitated wing. “You’re the best cadet I’ve ever had, and I hope that you can forgive me.” He swallowed hard. “We have a lot to talk about, so hold me to task when you wake up.”

Barrier shuddered as the blur of a dimly lit hospital room came back into focus. He lifted his chin from the soft, bedridden, and bandaged pegasus, and he exhaled as a lagging magical spark laced the spiral of his horn. Methodically, the captain turned to his right and dragged himself over the tile floor. His attention wandered from the curled locks of Tail’s mane to the nightstand with its flowered vase. It dribbled down one of the wooden legs, jumped over a small section of the adjacent azure wall, and followed the network of squares beneath his hooves. In fact, Barrier did everything to avoid the pointed gaze of the third pony present. Even after he made it back to his seat—even after he settled his flank into the lilac-tinted cushion, the unicorn remained silent and averted his head from the familiar medic.

Amora didn’t buy it. “What was that?” she asked with a curious tone that left one of her eyebrows lifted. Briefly waiting for the stallion to answer, Amora propped herself up on the foot of Tail’s bed before adding, “That sort of magic was nothing like the type you used in the bar the other night.”

A second shudder rolled along the stallion’s spine, and a sigh spilled from his muzzle. “It’s not the most pleasant of magical experiences—” He paused, tilted his head, and stared at Tail’s bandaged wing. “But it helped me send a long-overdue message.”

The brunette swished her tail as one of her ears swung in time with a thinking tic. “You can communicate with her while she sleeps? How is that even possible? Isn’t that one of Princess Luna’s abilities?”

“As much as I’d love to go into the details of that, Amora, it’s not the right time. If I’m being honest, it’s not something I’m comfortable speaking about, and even in the event of me feeling pressed, it’s a subject that my cadets deserve to hear first.” A sharp grunt burrowed into the captain’s explanation. “If it weren’t for what happened today, then you wouldn’t have even seen that magic at all. We should keep it at that for now and just proceed with an understanding that those circumstances necessitated that I take some action.”

“Yeah, I’d say so,” the major replied. She huffed and briefly bit her cheek. “While I’d love to rejoice at my first face-to-face encounter with Pri-vate Bitchy One—and let me be clear that Tail oh-so-greatly exceeded my imagination—I know command won’t let this stuff fly. You’re not going to be able to sit back on this issue any longer, Barrier, and we both know it. The bitchy one broke Tail’s wing, and the damage done to bitchy one’s muzzle is pretty staggering.” Amora gulped as she gently brushed the floor with her forehoof. “Others might view this event as a vulnerability. It could put her at risk. It could cost her everything.”

“The only pony who has to worry about that risk is me. I’m the only one who has a say in Tail’s apparent vulnerabilities. That is a contractual fact, and I only see a mare that has improved. She worked her tail off—” Slapping his forehead, Barrier could not hold in the grunt that sprang from his body like an overexcited colt. “Faust above.”

The definitive statement, with its resolute accent, yanked at Amora’s ears and quickly threw a smile smack-dab onto the medic’s countenance. “She really has, hasn’t she? A few months ago and I would have said bullshit at the thought of her giving it to a guard pony like that. I still can’t believe our little pegasus was capable of executing one of her thesis techniques either, but buck Celestia, she did—”

Barrier squinted in response to the terminology, and his voice eventually emerged with a curiosity-carrying timbre. “Thesis techniques?”

Amora groaned and pushed one of her forehooves to rest just below the base of her horn. “Part of her research. That application of weather magic was something she came up with during her A-FAM schooling.” Barrier’s confusion spread into a sheepish grin that made the medic sigh once more. “Did you grow up without meeting a single pegasus? A-FAM stands for Advanced Flight and Mechanics. It’s the stuff that put her on Spitfire’s radar, though Tail was never able to perform that particular move herself. Bitchy must have really pissed her off to get a hoofful of bolt right to the face. Given what Tail has told me, it was probably deserved.”

“It was definitely deserved,” the captain answered with a far chillier demeanor. “Still, I need to know Bonecrusher’s status. They were both my responsibility at the time—”

The snowy mare lifted her foreleg and donned a deadpanned expression. “Impact blows got the standard treatment. The electrical burns on the underside of her muzzle required some special care, and the jaw itself was fairly trashed as well. Tail shattered it. It’s been set and wired. Bonecrusher will not be talking for a while. Sometimes my fucking oath sucks. If it weren’t for that, I’d have let the bitch cope with the pain and the mess. You can thank me with a damn pancake for her full recovery.”

“It would be, unfortunately, rather unprofessional for me to laugh at that, Major. As grating as Bonecrusher has been, I should have set her behavior straight ages ago. Tail never complained. She just kept getting back up, so I viewed it as her taking things in stride. I only approached Luna once it became clear that all of Bonecrusher’s focus was centered on something other than her own growth.”

Barrier’s gaze drifted over to the sleeping pegasus. “I’m a terrible instructor,” he said flatly. “I could have prevented all of this. Bonecrusher’s got a bucked jaw, and Tail’s wing is broken. Doesn’t say much for my training abilities. It’s like watching history repeating all over again, and if I’m being frank, I’m failing just like I failed all my other cadets.”

A playful hum emerged from Amora’s throat as she leaned upon her perch. She idly stared down at the sheet and grinned at the flicking of a certain namesake that toyed with the shadows of the bedspread.

“That is the biggest load of bullshit that I have ever heard,” Tail groggily croaked out, not even bothering to move anything else but her mouth. “Ams, did he seriously just say that he’s failing?”

The medic nodded, despite the fact that Tail had not yet lifted her lids. “Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what he said, Hun.”

Another breath birthed another groan. Finally, Tail gingerly lifted a foreleg and rubbed the sand from her eyes. “Thank you, for making sure I didn’t wake up feeling like complete and total shit.” She hesitated for a few seconds. Barrier’s words meandered through her thoughts, and the collapse of her dream sat fresh upon Tail’s memory. “I think Captain Barrier and I have a few things to discuss in private—if you don’t mind. Something about me holding him to it.”

Amora had cleared out following the apprehensive glance from the unicorn stallion. A halfhearted smile rested upon his muzzle, and his forelimbs stretched out to the point that, from Tail’s perspective, the captain appeared as tense as he could be. “I’m not sure if I should be proud or worried that you remembered.”

“It was you then,” Tail remarked as a gentle smile pulled back the corner of her lips. “Explains why you were still present after the dreamscape broke.” Her irides glimmered to her brewing intellectual desire. Probably has to deal with that connection to Luna. Makes a lot of sense. It’d be nice to know what that is about. Maybe that’s what he wanted to tell me. Especially after I saw the two of them that morning… I never thought I’d meet a pony with that kind of ability. “He’s really incredible.”

Tail squeaked—and immediately groaned when her wings shifted. Heat flooded her muzzle, indicating the presence of her blushing state. Thankfully, probably through the grace of both princesses, Amora was gone and Barrier’s muzzle was also showing a bit of red.

“Relax,” he answered, wiping the flush from his face before a tentative, single-note chuckle hit the air. “We don’t need you damaging your wing any more than it already is.”

The pegasus watched her captain shake the strain from his limbs. While he had managed to calm his adorably cute and atypical blush, she was having a far less easy time of it. Where had this captain been the last few days? Where had the stallion gone—the one who opened up to her, downed crazy shots with her, the one who… would break into your nightmare to tell you… “I’m the best cadet you’ve ever had?”

Barrier simply nodded and fidgeted in his chair. He was erecting another wall right then and there, and the thought of another messy iteration drove the mare crazy. She tried to sit up, but her muscles would not obey. Pain seeped through the shield of Amora’s miraculous work, and Tail collapsed back on the mattress almost immediately thereafter.

“I told you to relax,” he spoke, spellbinding the cadet’s attention. This time, Tail did as she was told. She took him in, observing all of the little shuffles he made and the ways he would occasionally break eye contact. “This isn’t easy for me. Ponies that get close to me—” Barrier clenched his jaw and wheezed. “Ponies that get close to me usually die, Tail. I fail them. Over and over, I fail them. You let me get close, so I had to be distant. It’s the only way I know how to deal with me.

“But I ended up failing you anyway. I removed myself from your problems. I treated them like they could not matter to me, and it killed you. It took away the thing that makes you special, and yes, the spark that makes you the best. No matter what comes about from this crap now, I owe it to you to see you to the end. We’ll get to that soon enough, but there’s something else we need to discuss first.”

Tail didn’t make a single sound. She couldn’t even hear the noise of her own breathing—or feel the beat of her own heart. Even her thoughts, and that wild imagination, resigned themselves to silence in the wake of Barrier’s declaration.

“Earlier, you asked me—” He exhaled rapidly and looked away from the mare. “That morning—” A pained grimace distorted the interior contours of his muzzle, and his barrel visibly recoiled from whatever internal calamity the captain was trying to guide to the surface. “Tail,” he finally sighed after giving himself a few additional seconds to steady his nerves, “let me tell you about Ember.”

Author's Note:

Another Thursday folks! Thanks for sticking with the story as we officially enter the second half!

Props to Word Worthy, as always, for his edit magic.

I'm proud to say Neon squeed 12 times in this chapter. Unfortunately, he did not die, but I guess we need to conserve our Neoncoffins.

Also, just saying that you might want to drop by on Saturday. HintHint.Bonus.Hint

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